Sunday, October 10, 2010

Play back or Drive

The ongoing India-Australia Test series has marked my resumption of Test match viewing, after having practically lost all interest in the game over the past 4-5 years.

This post was prompted by Michael Clarke's soft dismissal by Harbhajan in the first innings of the Bangalore Test yesterday.

One of the most ungainly features of modern batsmanship is the almost instinctive lunge forward while defending a slow bowler. To my mind, it seems like a nothing shot. The forward lurch does not necessarily get you to the pitch of the ball. Also, it deprives you of the extra instant of time to judge the delivery.

The key to playing spin bowling well is to use your feet to reduce the element of uncertainty. There are two ways in which one can meet that objective -

By getting to the pitch of the ball
In which case it does not really matter how much spin the bowler has imparted to it.

By playing back!
When in doubt, one must always play back. If it isn't possible to get to the pitch of the ball, the batsman must always play late which helps him buy an extra second to examine the extent of deviation off the pitch.

By lurching forward, you're only making an offer of a bat-pad dismissal every ball!
And yet, this most ungainly of strokes has been inexplicably popular across the world for as long as I can remember. I wonder if there was ever a time in cricket history when the forward defensive was not in fashion!

And yes. It is particularly disappointing when batsmen of the calibre of Ponting and Clarke commit batting suicide by lurching forward.

These thoughts made me scour the net for similar polemics against the "forward defensive". Here's a video clipping of Don Bradman's defensive play in one of the 1938 Ashes tests. Check out the section from 1:45mins to 2:05 mins. What struck me was that the guy does not show any inclination to lunge forward. Instead, he plays back as a rule even if the delivery is not exactly short in length. No wonder he seldom got out caught at forward short-leg or silly point.

I thought it was a very good demonstration of how to defend against slow bowlers.


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